The changing faces of violence

Around 750,000 persons die each year due to violence, according to the Control Arms campaign. But the nature and the features of organized violence in our work are constantly changing.

Interstate wars appear to be (fortunately) waning and their numbers drop every year (although episodes like the Syrian war should remind us that geopolitics is still there). Most of the current war are internal and take place within the States and not between them. Many of the victims of armed violence take place in these contexts.

But an even bigger number (2 out of 3) die in situation of violent peace. In countries that are not at war, but that face high degrees of violence, be it social, criminal, transnational or different mixes of all them. A number of Latin American cities are examples of these situations. In some cases, common and sociopolitical violence merge to the point that it becomes difficult (or impossible) to understand where the limits are.

It has been said by many institutions and organizations but the World Development Report 2011, by the World Bank, is remarkable in this regard: “1.5 billion people live in countries that face repeated cycles of political and criminal violence. No fragile, low income country or country in conflict have managed to achieve any of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Providing a solution for fragile States trapped in economic, politic and security problems that hamper development and trap them in cycles of violence require institution strengthening and good governance, in ways that give priority to citizen security, justice, and jobs”.

The institutions of global governance and the States are best prepared to face classic conflict: wars between States. They have a range of tools, from diplomacy and negotiation to sanctions, incentives or threats, that are most designed to face violence as it was in the 20th century. And the same happens with humanitarian action for victims of crisis.

More than 60,000 persons died in Mexico during Calderon war on drugs, as a result of violence between the Government and the narco-trafficking groups, among those, and within then. But the application of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), even in internal conflicts, is restricted to armed groups with some structural requirements and political nature.

What application could the IHL have in the Mexican context? Could the ICRC negotiate application with a narco-trafficking network in spite of the damage and victims it causes?

Those situations are more complex than conflicts between States (where objectives are clear, at least in part). Their main actors are non-State armed groups, some of them without political nature like organized crime.

A number of global processes contribute to these violent situations and act as causes or drivers. Among them I want to mention pressures of globalization: the weakening of States and changed balances of power with non-State actors; accelerated path of urbanization; irreversible damages to the environment and an economy that integrates parts and segments of the world while excluding others.

It is not by chance that fragile and conflict States have performed badly with regard to achieving the MDG. Violence is one of main obstacles for development. This fact is widely recognized, but responses are slower in terms of the creation of tools and mechanisms to engage those situations with global vision and through internal changes and external support. The year 2015 and beyond place an opportunity to face the interrelated challenges of peace, development and human rights.

Peace and development: The debates

The United Nations General Assembly is holding its 68º edition nowadays. Among the key issues to be debated and agreed on is the definition of the future of global development policies. 2015 marks the end of the period agreed to reach the MDG. Since they have been only partially achieved, by September 2015 a new agreement and framework for action should have been agreed on to replace the MDG.

The MDG were approved in 2000 and cover a number of key issues, but they did not include others like peace, human rights and good governance. This is a mirror of the ‘traditional’ agenda in which development and violence were considered (and worked on) in separate ways. But in the years since then, a certain consensus has been achieved about the close (and complex) links among them.

Last May, the UN High Panel delivered its report about MDG, and included peace and security as key elements for development. The Panel is far from having the last word but proposed four objectives for the future: reduce the rates of violent deaths and eliminate violence against children; take into account external drivers of internal violence (including organized crime); create and/or strengthen independent justice institutions, and improve the capacities and accountability mechanisms for Law enforcement institutions.

The debate about how to include issues of conflict, violence and human rights in the post-2015 development framework includes many actors and positions. A good number of them can be found here.
Cross-posted from The Huffington Post.